Following a year of construction, both Memorial Square and Meridian Place are set to officially open later this month. The newly-renovated outdoor space is now 10 times larger than it once was.
Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman says the new space is sure to become a landmark in the city, and will connect the waterfront to the downtown core, which was a major goal of the development.
“This really is our first urban public space in the city, it’s going to be the location of major public events,” he said. “It’s been super exciting to see the project come to fruition.”
The project was a joint effort between the City of Barrie, the Downtown Barrie Business Association (BIA) and Meridian, who shared the $3.8 million bill. However, Lehman says the downtown merchants were integral in getting the project done.
“I would be remiss if I did not again emphasize…the downtown merchants, who raised a third of the funds and supported with another third from their own funding.,” he said. “But most importantly, they were integrally involved in the project and after this are going to be integrally involved in running this space. This isn’t just the city by any means, this is a space for the downtown. It’s for the downtown merchants and businesses and that’s really been an amazing partnership that has got us where we are.”
The project, which began in 2017, involved completely redesigning and reconstructing the area into a more usable space.
“As it was, use of the space was not that good. We weren’t utilizing this large of an area,” said Gus Diamantopoulos, manager of corporate facilities and services at the City of Barrie.
By relocating the existing cenotaph, constructing a stage and fully equipping the space with several amenities, Diamantopoulos says the newly designed space will function much better. “This area is now not only going to be a space where you can honour our heroes in Memorial Square, but it will be a great place to gather, and enjoy festivals and performances. It’ll just be a great community space for the whole city to enjoy,” he said.
While the design is new, it was heavily influenced by history. A series of brass inlays in the concrete climb the stairs, telling the story of the nine-mile portage. Four trees have been planted in the square in honour of the four detachments of the military who fought at Vimy Ridge, a new monument houses an urn containing sacred soil from Vimy Ridge, and the existing cenotaph was relocated to the centre of the square to be showcased more prominently.
However, engineers and planners also left room for some modern influence. Three foundations have been poured along the promenades which will showcase art installations created by local artists.
The new space also includes up to date features to improve functionality. Three new patio spaces have been created at Casa Cappuccino cafe, Swirleez Frozen Yogurt shop and the site where a BMO bank branch was formerly located.
The space has been equipped with water, electricity and new lighting, which means the square can accommodate several different types of events such as concerts, festivals, plays, activities and more.
“The programming opportunities are enormous,” said Craig Stevens, managing director at the Downtown Barrie Business Association. “This really is going to tie the waterfront and the waterfront parks into the downtown.”
According Stevens, the space was also designed to be completely accessible. The space now features several ramps, wide and accessibly slanted promenades, and a layout Stevens says is both accessible and functional. Even the grates covering plants have been engineered with thin enough spaces between slats that a wheelchair wheel can pass over easily without getting stuck. “It was important that the whole space be accessible for everyone,” he said.
While fencing comes down this afternoon, the grand opening of both Memorial Square and Meridian Place is scheduled for June 29.
Those looking to enjoy Memorial Square can join dignitaries and representatives from the Downtown Barrie BIA, the City of Barrie, the Barrie Legion and Grey and Simcoe Foresters for the celebration on June 29 at 10:30 a.m. Attendees will enjoy a parade down Owen Street ending at the cenotaph. The event will also feature a WWII aircraft fly-by to pay tribute to Barrie’s military heritage.
Meridian Place will officially open later that afternoon at 5 p.m. There will be a ribbon cutting, cake cutting and public tours of the new space. Attendees will also be treated to live music from the Fred Grant Squares and Mayor Lehman’s own band Sonic Coalition.
Both events are free to the public.